When you face an onslaught of medical symptoms that arise mysteriously out of the blue, you hope that your doctor would be able to shed some light on the matter. Unfortunately, doctors can often have just as much trouble identifying troubling signs like stomach problems, rashes, fevers and body aches. A recent study, in fact, found that diagnostic errors may affect as many as 12 million American adults, and that half of those errors are potentially harmful.1
Many symptoms are often so common to multiple ailments and diseases, it can be tough for doctors to pin down the exact problem. Additionally, symptoms may vary from person to person since each person’s body responds differently to different health threats. Of course, one may argue that the very purpose of diagnostic tests is to be able to accurately detect what the problem is, but because they’re so expensive, most of us don’t bother following through with them. And even if we did, they still don’t answer our anxious questions in black and white.
1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition of the large intestine. The symptoms that are commonly associated with IBS are cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and/or constipation.
IBS is one of those conditions in which there are no real tests that can prove their existence. Instead, these require a “diagnosis of elimination” where the doctors rule out other possible causes of the symptoms. According to medics, IBS can be diagnosed successfully only if the patient reports symptoms for at least six months before his first formal evaluation and if he experiences discomfort for at least three days in a month during the last three months before being diagnosed with the condition.2
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder that causes symptoms like pain and tenderness all throughout the body. Because this disorder is also characterized by hurting muscles, feelings of anxiety and tiredness, and the inability to sleep, many practitioners will first think it’s arthritis or chronic fatigue syndrome. Because there are no lab tests to prove the existence of this condition, diagnosing this problem becomes even more difficult. Diagnosis of fibromyalgia is also hugely dependent on what kind of doctor you choose to see. For instance, if you go to a gastroenterologist, you may be told you have irritable bowel syndrome.
3. Heart Attack
4. Celiac Disease
Celiac disease patients are very likely to have heard that they have all other problems but the ability to digest gluten. This is because the symptoms of celiac disease like abdominal pain, headaches, itchy skin, joint pain, and vomiting show up different for different patients. In some cases, the symptoms may not be visible at all. A loss of weight, which is another common symptom, shows up in only half of the celiac patients, while the condition is often confused with irritable bowel syndrome in many others. Celiac disease can also cause heartburn and acid reflux, which can be blamed on many other conditions. For this reason, it may take up to a decade for celiac disease to be diagnosed correctly.
|↑1||Singh, Hardeep, Ashley ND Meyer, and Eric J. Thomas. “The frequency of diagnostic errors in outpatient care: estimations from three large observational studies involving US adult populations.” BMJ Qual Saf (2014): bmjqs-2013.|
|↑2||Lacy, Brian E., Kirsten Weiser, and Ryan De Lee. “The treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.” Therapeutic advances in gastroenterology 2, no. 4 (2009): 221-238.|
|↑3||Younger men receive faster care for heart attacks and angina. McGill University Health Center.|
|↑4||Cancer Facts & Figures 2013. American Cancer Society.|